by Erin Graham 10/10/2017
Late last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation to mitigate penalties for people who knowingly expose others to HIV. Previous lawmakers passed the original laws in the 1980s to combat the AIDS crisis and the hysteria led to laws that cracked down disproportionately on sex workers and minorities, especially in the LGBT community. These groups are now the ones in ardent favor of the less harsh laws. Solicitation by an HIV positive worker and donating HIV positive blood are now misdemeanors rather than felonies.
Senator Scott Wiener contested that the antiquated laws encouraged people not to get HIV testing out of fear of being punished and thus exacerbated the HIV crisis. Many experts agree: a new study from the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute proves that only seven out of the 379 HIV-related indictments in California between 1988 and 2014 concluded that HIV was shared with malintent. The district attorneys of Los Angeles and San Fransisco, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the California Women’s Law Center, and other groups all supported the new bill.
The Democratic majority in the state legislature champions the new laws as a means of treating HIV and the people affected by it the same way law enforcement and health centers treat other deadly diseases like SARS or Ebola. Many Republicans found it appalling. California Senator Joel Anderson told the LA Times that it is “absolutely crazy” to not punish those who consciously expose others to HIV. Nonetheless, California legislators passed the bill and it will go into effect in 2018.